When I heard a disembodied voice shout “ARE YOU READY FOR ANDREW!?” and then scream continuously for about 20 seconds while my group was still going through venue security, I knew it was gonna be a good time. I settled in with my friends and fellow Digital Culture folks between crowded seats in front of an empty stage. A screen hung over it, displaying nothing but the Channel 5 logo. Upon closer inspection, I noticed the logo was loaded onto a Mac window that they had either forgotten to full-screen or left up for comedic effect. My question was answered when the hired host announced the show was starting and a mouse dragged over another window to play the footage we were promised, revealing Andrew Callaghan — the man of the hour — speaking to us over a black screen.
I should explain who this man of the hour was. A Seattle native, Callaghan is a rising star in journalism online — starting his career as a teenager interviewing dark web drug buyers, Occupy Seattle protestors and meth-smoking Juggalos in his hometown. He’d find some tamer subjects working as a doorman in New Orleans, quitting that job to press drunk people on the streets for their darkest secrets in the series “Quarter Confessions.” This man-on-the-street, vox populi style would become Callaghan’s brand in the now-canceled series “All Gas No Brakes.” After abandoning the show due to a predatory contract with former sponsor Doing Things Media, the now-current home for his independent work is “Channel 5.” The former show’s abandoned premise — an alien trying to learn everything he could about fringe American cultures — is wholly evident in Callaghan’s signature “toddler” interviewing style of simply nodding along and asking the occasional “why” or “how” to let the interview subject speak as much of their mind as possible.
While “All Gas No Brakes” started as a comedic series complete with hilarious editing choices as the unhinged hideaways of Americana ranted to Callaghan’s camera, he found himself being able to apply the same on-the-ground, minimal-intervention interview style to serious topics like the Minneapolis protests. There’s an unspoken but unprecedented dedication to journalism in these videos as Callaghan swaps his trademark goofy oversized reporter’s suit with plain clothing to blend in with the action, allowing underrepresented groups to speak their mind. While he comes off as a much blander, golden-retriever white boy version of himself in videos, the exceptional coverage he produces and the care with which he talks in interviews about his work in “promoting radical listening and empathy,” as well as his journalistic idols and ideals, make his intelligence and empathy evident. It’s for these reasons that, upon hearing that more seats had been added for the Michigan stop of the Channel 5 LIVE tour — complete with “RAPPERS & MAGICIANS to open every show” and potential appearances of the unique personalities documented by the show — the Digital Culture beat immediately pounced on the tickets.
Callaghan started out the gate strong on the big screen by introducing the footage we were about to watch as part of his HBO documentary with A24, executive produced by the Tim and Eric about the Jan. 6 insurrection titled “This Place Rules.” So of course, the screening started immediately with footage of Florida Men previously featured on “All Gas No Brakes” (which is, for some reason, missing from the original channel). It built up a story on two groups of Florida Men’s rivalries intercut with news footage of the 2020 election, climaxing in a boxing match between two leading Florida Men, all in the YouTube resolution we’re used to. When the film suddenly switched to a traditional high-resolution interview with the subject asking why the movie started with the Florida Man feature in a film about a contested election, Callaghan muttered, “It’s two guys fighting.”
The rest of the show would proceed like this, with a screening of unreleased footage interspersed with traditional performances. After the A24 clip, Callaghan and his crew — cameraman Nic Mosher and production manager Evan Gilbert-Katz — took the stage alongside his manager (the guy who we could hear screaming while going through security) and co-correspondent (and love of my life) Sidam. True to what I’d seen of Callaghan’s latest shows on Instagram, he was dressed to fit in with the locals — swapping out the gonzo suit for a Detroit Tigers jersey. He thanked the audience for coming out and eagerly introduced the first opening act — two battle rappers they had found on Craigslist, as promised. As the musicians took the stage, Callaghan made sure to pay mind to how crucial the city of Detroit was for battle rap as the first rapper set out to disgrace the art form.
The first man to rap was a fedora-laden lad who described himself as “Jack Black mixed with Zach Galifianakis.” While some of his rhymes were creative and others just callous, his primary objective seemed to only tie his punchline to Channel 5 events. His opponent — “J-A with three O’s” — told us to follow him on Instagram to promote his actual career (JA with three O’s, if you’re reading this, I still can’t find you on Instagram, please help). His flow and off-the-dome bars were both objectively better but didn’t have the same outrageous crassness as “Zach Black” and was, therefore, voted the loser. When I saw the two backstage, I made sure to tell him he got robbed, to which he acknowledged humbly, just saying he was thankful for rap. I really wish I had gotten his Instagram.
Oh yeah, but why was I backstage? Starting a few shows ago, Craigslist bookings for magicians on top of battle rappers to open had shown slim pickings for the tour, so a talent show was instated along with whatever Craigslist people showed up. Callaghan invited members of the audience onstage to display a talent. Fellow Digital Culture writer Hunter Bishop and I, who had been discussing a talent to showcase for weeks, decided that night to go up as a two-person act — Hunter would crack his knuckles under his neck really loud (like this), and I’d hold the mic. Being the last people added to the lineup, we braced ourselves backstage to close the talent show while other people sang opera, performed “Hallelujah” and an East Lansing-based rapper named Xotrey brought some well-needed rap competence. Unfortunately, the show cut us off early for time as they brought another windowed video to play.
I’m not going to go into too much detail about what we were shown next as it would probably be deemed unfit for publication. All you need to know is that we in the audience were warned that we were going to see explicit footage of interviews at the Folsom Street Fair, an annual BDSM fair in San Francisco where public nudity is allowed and public fornication is not, although it is inevitable. If you want to see it, it’s on the Channel 5 Patreon. What I considered the highlight of the show came next: the follow-up to excerpts of another video, “Finding Bill Joiner.”
Who is Bill Joiner? Well, first meet Kelly Johnson, a hyper-patriotic conspiracy theorist who first appeared in Channel 5’s “White Lives Matter Rally.” Callaghan noted onstage he realized most of Johnson’s footage was him ranting about his landlord Bill Joiner — a man Johnson had never met in his life — allegedly stealing his house. With Johnson’s consent, the rest of the doc was a deep dive into his life, trying to arrange a meeting with Joiner while examining the impacts that losing his home had on Johnson and his family’s life. The tone of the video would vary widely — interviews with Johnson’s wife and daughter painted this genuinely tragic portrait of a family man who had lost his mind alongside his house and family. Home videos provided by Johnson of his past dedication to being a father were interspersed with Johnson’s current unhinged rants about the deep state assassinating celebrities and agreeing to crawl around at night in camo suits with Callaghan near Bill Joiner’s property.
Now the scene is set. The doc suddenly took a tangent as Callaghan interviewed Johnson’s son Kyle and was invited to his fraternity party at Chico State University in California. Callaghan outlined his main worry about approaching this event: the fact that Kyle “is a freshman, so his party might suck ass.” To remedy this, Callaghan went to a local skate park to invite everyone there. To their surprise, they met a single person spitting seamless, aggressive bars — Unkle Pill. Unkle Pill promised he’d use his vast social network to fill up the party and come nighttime, he was blasting his beats for the entire frat to hear. Kyle’s roommate took issue with the performance, however, and the two got into a short scuffle before resolving their differences. Let me tell you, I was enamored with Unkle Pill — this bear-man of a rapper whose energy never dipped below an 11. That’s why I, along with the rest of the audience, lost our collective shit when the crew brought Unkle Pill in the flesh onstage, who had been touring with them since Sacramento. I didn’t know who this man was not even FIVE minutes ago, and I found myself jumping out of my seat, screaming the lyrics he’d already embedded in my skull. That experience, as well as Kelly Johnson’s story, stands to me as a testament to the unique impact of Channel 5 and what made this live show so different from any other — the ability to radically connect with someone from such a different world in such a brief amount of time.
The show winded down from there, with a light Q&A between the audience and the Channel 5 crew. The most amusing part of this was how often Callaghan turned the questions back onto his interviewers, his journalistic instincts unrestrained and shining through. What still sticks with me, however, is a question posed by someone who identified as the editor-in-chief of a “small liberal arts college paper,” pressing Callaghan on the future of print media. Callaghan responded with his first experiences with print media, namely a zine he wrote and distributed about his hitchhiking experiences as a teenager — titled “All Gas No Brakes,” the progenitor of his YouTube career. He hit the question with a perhaps unwelcome but evident truth: “Put it all online.” That truth reminds me of my own work here at the Daily, as well as my fellow staffers and all of our online participation and documentation. When you look at the trajectory of Callaghan’s career and what he’s been able to accomplish through his work by virtue of the Digital Age, it’s clear how necessary the online evolution of journalism is. In the age of fake news, political hyper-polarization and corporate-controlled news media, Callaghan has stood out as the future of journalism. We can laugh endlessly at what we deem deranged diatribes of those unfamiliar, but maintaining our empathy is a responsibility that falls on everyone in an increasingly online society. The future of journalism is here. The future of journalism is us.
Daily Arts Writer Saarthak Johri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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